Steve Schaefer, CEO of HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital, completed the 5K MuckFest MS in Larkspur this year.

SteveSchaeferAfter being hailed as a “champion for health and wellness,” on his nomination form, Steve Schaefer, CEO of HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital (HSRH) of Colorado Springs, has been named the 6035 Lifestyle Healthiest Company CEO this year by the Colorado Springs Business Journal.

“As I look around the community, I’m probably not the healthiest CEO out there, but I have led by example, and we’ve done an awesome job,” said a humble Schaefer.

In January this year, Schaefer saw that the paid health care insurance claims for the 150 employees of HSRH had doubled from 2013 to 2014.

“That was a wake-up call for me. I, as a leader, had to do something,” he said.

Nomination

“Making a decision to be a healthier person physically and emotionally can be a daunting challenge,” said HSRH Director of Marketing Carley Hyman, who nominated him. “It takes courage, commitment and positive attitude to establish a healthy lifestyle. Steve has shown his commitment to his health and wellness by changing his diet, and he has lost 13 pounds.”

Hyman continued, “We believe that our commitment to wellness impacts the way we think and the decisions we make throughout the workday. How we live has a profound impact on the quality of our interactions both at home and with those that entrust us with their care. Last, and maybe most importantly, to give health we need to be healthy ourselves or the reservoir will be empty and there is nothing to give.”

His action

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Schaefer decided that in order to create a healthy company, he needed to start by revamping the employee food service. All the unhealthy food options in the cafeteria were eliminated and replaced by healthier options. The company subsidized employees’ wages to encourage them to eat at the hospital, rather than go off-campus and eat at fast-food restaurants.

He decided to turn a portion of the hospital into an employee wellness center, which includes cardiovascular machines and weights. The center also provides room for classes, and Schaefer has offered financial incentives to employees who teach exercise classes for their colleagues. Also, YMCA of the Pikes Peak Region provides HSRH with yoga and strength and conditioning classes. One employee teaches a hip-hop dance class, and another teaches meditation.

“I had never done yoga, but I do yoga now. I sit there and sweat next to the younger generation,” Schaefer said laughing. “The only thing I won’t do is hip-hop. I’m afraid someone will video it and it will go viral.”

The HSRH executive also created an employee Meetup page. If an employee is doing “anything healthy,” he or she can post a Meetup and other employees can join in the activity.

Sponsorships

“Also, we’ve changed the way we do sponsorships,” Schaefer said. For example, HSRH sponsored a team for the MS Society MuckFest MS, a 5K obstacle course through the mud, and the MS Society bike ride.

Recently, the company sponsored a team for the Pikes Peak Challenge and hike and walk events to benefit the Brain Injury Alliance.

Schaefer said his “ultimate goal is to include our patients in our wellness activities. Parkinson’s patients respond well with bicycles, so we’ll work with bike manufacturers to create tandem bicycles.

“As a community, we have to be healthy too.”

Schaefer installed a large banner in the wellness center on the wall.

“I asked employees to sign up to a wellness goal and put their name next to it,” because it’s a natural tendency to forget a goal if it’s not written down, he said.

Employee goals ranged from running a marathon to eating fewer chicken wings. Other goals: stop binge eating, cook more meals for the family, be the healthiest dad and husband I can be, and more. At the end of the year, hospital employees will celebrate the winners.

Schaefer said his goal was to participate in as many events as possible this year, so he ran the MuckFest MS, practices yoga and participated in the Pikes Peak Challenge.

“I’m checking off all my goals,” he said.

As for next year, he’s contemplating ramping up his training and entering the IRONMAN Boulder. On Aug. 5, 2016, Schaefer turns 50. The IRONMAN Boulder is two days later, and he feels confident he will do it.

“It’s not out of the question,” he said.

Other goals

In June, Schaefer sponsored an employee team of eight women called the “HealthSouth Heroes” to compete in a 24-hour ultra-relay trail run in Snowmass.

“Steve has also helped employees reach personal fundraising goals to run marathons and compete in triathlons. Employees have been given free technical shirts, hydration packs and access to the 24-hour on-site gym,” Hyman said in the nomination.

In June, Schaefer logged “an impressive” 2,520 minutes, or 42 hours, of aerobic activity, she said. “Steve talks the talk and walks the walk (or runs!)”

During this year, Schaefer shaved 15 minutes off his time hiking the Manitou Incline and joined his employees running the YMCA 5K Turkey Trot and the Salida Fibark 5K run.

Tangible results

The icing on the cake for his wellness initiatives at the hospital have paid off in tangible results.

“When companies think about doing wellness activities, it’s hard to measure return on investment,” he said. “[At HSRH] turnover has gone down this year, and I believe [employees] are happier. Patient satisfaction scores are higher this year.

“It’s those things that are not direct correlations, but when you look at the big picture of the hospital, when our indicators are moving in the right direction, it has to do with our investment in our employees.”

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Marija Vader
A Colorado native, Marija (Mary) B. Vader graduated with a degree in technical journalism, focus on English and chemistry, from Colorado State University. For the most part, she has worked in print journalism since then. For the Business Journal, she covers banking, commercial and residential real estate, legal business, transportation and more.